Author: Jessica S. Olson
Publication date: March 9, 2021
Genre: YA fantasy, romance, retelling
My rating: 4/5 stars
Phantom of the Opera phans, rejoice–this is the gender-swapped Phantom retelling we’ve all been waiting for. Dark, luscious, and full of twisted magic, this story offers a fresh twist on the musical (and novel) you know and love. It takes out the love triangle, adds in a magic system rooted in the buying and selling of memory, and doesn’t shy away from the tricky blend of monstrousness and humanity that is the Opera Ghost. In other words, it tells a new tale while maintaining the best parts of the original. The end result is magical–music to my ears, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house.
Cast into a well at birth for being one of the magical few who can manipulate memories when people sing, she was saved by Cyril, the opera house’s owner. Since that day, he has given her sanctuary from the murderous world outside. All he asks in return is that she use her power to keep ticket sales high—and that she stay out of sight. For if anyone discovers she survived, Isda and Cyril would pay with their lives.
But Isda breaks Cyril’s cardinal rule when she meets Emeric Rodin, a charming boy who throws her quiet, solitary life out of balance. His voice is unlike any she’s ever heard, but the real shock comes when she finds in his memories hints of a way to finally break free of her gilded prison.
Haunted by this possibility, Isda spends more and more time with Emeric, searching for answers in his music and his past. But the price of freedom is steeper than Isda could ever know. For even as she struggles with her growing feelings for Emeric, she learns that in order to take charge of her own destiny, she must become the monster the world tried to drown in the first place.
Trigger/content warnings: magic involving self-harm, child abuse (off-page, but results of it are discussed on-page)
You can purchase a copy of the book HERE!
With all the fairytale retellings we’ve been getting in recent years, I have to say, it was really nice to read a retelling of something a little different–a Gothic classic and stage musical. (Side note: are musical retellings coming into vogue now? After how much I loved Only Mostly Devastated last year, a queer contemporary Grease retelling, my inner theater-kid would be thrilled to see this trend continue.) But I digress–on to this book!
The Phantom of the Opera–the person, not the story–is a complex character. Even as he is overly romanticized in the stage production, he is a truly morally gray character. He wants to be loved, but his life of hiding and being hated by the world makes him cause some truly monstrous results. He kills people. In the book, he tortures people. And people still love and sympathize with him.
In writing this story, the author did not shy away from that element. Her anti-heroine, too, is so desperate for love and freedom that she will do whatever it takes to get there. Whether that means falsifying people’s memories, driving people mad, or outright murder, she overcomes her moral qualms with a rationale of the ends justifying the means; a lifetime without any real human contact has skewed her moral compass in a slightly-off-course direction. Yet, even with her questionable choices, readers can’t help but sympathize with her underlying humanity. Morally gray women are not very common in fiction, because let’s face it–the world still likes to harbor this dichotomy of women who being either saints or villains, with very little in between. This story is one of the slowly-growing legion of books breaking that mold, and I love it for that.
The magic system in this world was also interesting. The concept of an economy based on buying and selling memories can be tricky to execute–the ethical implications, especially with regard to power imbalances that affect the lower class, have the potential to become very messy, but this story managed to at least touch on those themes. And the dichotomy of fendoirs and gravoirs–those who can extract memory elixir and those who can manipulate memories, both of whom are born with disfigured faces–was a nice touch. That said, there were some elements of the worldbuilding that were a little fuzzy for me. I don’t want to delve into spoiler territory too much, but a certain group of people was mentioned several times, but never with clear answers on what they really did.
Now, the question everyone asks: how was the romance? It was sweet. It bordered on insta-love a bit, but in the context of Isda’s character, isolated and without any real friends, that isn’t too surprising and is at least consistent with her character. Emeric is an earnest and kindhearted boy, in stark contrast to Isda’s brooding, with a fondness for making caramels and a general inquisitiveness. Though the conversations between Isda and Emeric felt rather stilted at times, the way they cared about each other was still evident. (For folks who like steaminess, there isn’t much beyond kissing/making out, just so you know.) And the ending? Oh boy, lots of feelings. I figured out where it was going relatively early, but it still hit pretty hard when I got there.
A note on the language: Olson renders the story in lovely prose with a flair for the dramatic. She weaves music-related language throughout the narration, heightening the general artistic atmosphere that pervades the book. As a singer and theory geek, there were a couple times where the terminology was used inaccurately–contrasting notes as being staccato and largo, for example (one is an articulation, the other is a tempo; perhaps she meant “legato” for the second one?), or referring to something as being a sonata and a serenade (a sonata is a purely instrumental piece, but all the other terms she used in the passage were for sung music). This is obviously super nit-picky, and most people don’t care, but still irked me a little. The words were pretty, but form taking priority over substance is…not ideal.
Finally, if you’re a huge fan of the musical like I am, you’ll also delight in how many small references to the show the author works into the story. (If you’re not, you can probably skip this bulleted list because it won’t mean much to you.) Among others:
- A nursery rhyme Isda used to love, about a girl named Charlotte (loosely referencing “Little Lotte”)
- A certain councilman named LeRoux (a nod to the author of the original novel)
- A scene inspired by “Music of the Night”
- A masquerade ball (reference is self-explanatory)
- A line where a character refers to Isda as an “angel of music”
- A brief mention of a book by someone named Andre Forbin (I can’t be sure, but it immediately made me think of Andre and Firmin, the bumbling managers of the opera house in the show)
- Of course, a chandelier drop (because let’s be real, you can’t have a Phantom story without that!)
In short: despite a few stumbling blocks, this is a memorable story full of music and moral ambiguity. Recommended for anyone who likes their YA fantasy to skew a little to the dark side, fans of Phantom of the Opera, and anyone who wants to see a badass girl burn the world to the ground in order to earn her place in the world.
This was a supremely quotable book, and I had quite a few highlights in it, many of which fell into the “ruthless girl out for revenge” category. Here are some of my favorites:
I am a shadow. A shimmer of black satin. A wraith in the dark.
“You could shatter the sky with a voice like that. If only our world would let you.”
Through his song, they hear me. They are enraptured by my spell, entranced by my music. I am no longer hiding in the shadows, powerless and meaningless. I control this theater. They all belong to me.
That’s the problem with believing. It doesn’t guarantee truth.
“When is it my turn?” I ask. “When do I get to step out of the shadows and live?”
Ecstasy and hatred dance a Vaureillean valse through me, and I revel in the exquisite way they complement each other.
“The white of that dress makes you look like…”Fans of the musical–yup, she dropped that reference!
“Like an angel?” He pauses, his cheeks dimpling as he smiles. “Oui, an angel of music.”
Destruction is a music all its own. One composed of drumbeats and a percussion of passion and pain.
I am the Channe Opera House Ghost. Bearer of nightmares. And just as worthy to walk under an open sky as anyone else.
This place once felt like my kingdom, my home. Now I wish it would burn.
If they want me to be a nightmare, a nightmare I shall be.
“Wait until I usher in a new oblivion. Wait until I stand over you, powerful and wicked and beautiful. Wait until I burn you from the inside out.”
The other hosts on this tour have come up with plenty of additional awesome content, from fan-casting to mood boards to author interviews. Additionally, if you hop on over to the Instagram leg of the tour, there’s a giveaway over there for a finished copy of the book! You can find the full tour schedule HERE.
About the Author
Jessica S. Olson claims New Hampshire as her home, but has somehow found herself in Texas, where she spends most of her time singing praises to the inventor of the air conditioner. When she’s not hiding from the heat, she’s corralling her three wild—but adorable—children, dreaming up stories about kissing and murder and magic, and eating peanut butter by the spoonful straight from the jar. She earned a bachelor’s in English with minors in editing and French, which essentially means she spent all of her university time reading and eating French pastries. Sing Me Forgotten is her debut novel.
Jessica is represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency.
Thank you to Turn the Page Tours and Inkyard Press for providing me with an eARC of this book as part of my participation in this tour! All opinions are my own.